Nearly 150 million people sweltering through deadly US heat wave

People enjoy the Astoria Pool on a hot afternoon in the borough of Queens, New York City, on July 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2019

Nearly 150 million people sweltering through deadly US heat wave

  • Climate data showed June was the hottest month on record worldwide, with a heat wave across Europe smashing national records

WASHINGTON: The United States was sweating through a weekend of dangerously hot weather, with major cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington experiencing temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
An oppressive heat wave stretching from the Midwestern plains to the Atlantic coast had nearly 150 million people struggling to stay cool amid scorching temperatures.
Heat index values — combining the effect of heat and humidity — could reach 110 to 115 degrees, particularly in the east, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
It warned that “dangerously high temperatures and humidity could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke if precautions are not taken.”
The heat was expected to continue through late Sunday as a high-pressure system off the Atlantic coast ushered in steamy, subtropical air.
People were being urged to stay hydrated, watch out for the sick and the elderly, stay inside as much as possible and not leave children or animals in cars.
The heat wave already claimed at least three lives, including two earlier in the week in the eastern state of Maryland.
In Arkansas, former NFL player Mitch Petrus died Thursday after working outside his family’s shop. The 32-year-old died of heat stroke, the Pulaski County coroner was quoted as saying in US media.
Heat warnings have also been issued for parts of eastern Canada.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a heat emergency.
The New York City Triathlon, which had been scheduled for Sunday, was canceled for the first time since its founding in 2001.
The estimated 4,000 participants, many of whom had traveled long distances to race, will receive full refunds of entry fees of up to $399, organizers said.
The two-day OZY Fest, a food, comedy and music festival set for Central Park this weekend, was also called off.
In Washington, a popular outdoor jazz concert at the National Galley of Art was canceled.
New York City opened 500 cooling centers for residents.
“Saturday is going to be really, really bad, on through Sunday,” de Blasio said in a warning to the city. “This is serious, serious stuff.”
At least three public defenders said on Twitter that inmates in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex were suffering with no air conditioning, and that some guards had turned off fans as punishment, resulting in “deadly conditions.”
The Brooklyn Defender Services legal aid group said some inmates didn’t have summer clothing, only long underwear provided by the group last winter.
Top officials from the city’s Department of Corrections were at the facility monitoring the response to the heat wave to “protect health and safety of everyone in the facility,” De Blasio wrote on Twitter.
The department said in a statment to AFP that extra staff were on hand to distribute summer clothing, and clinics were open around the clock to treat heat-related symptoms.
Those in units without air conditioning were given access to fans, ice, water and “multiple cool showers.”
The city’s electrical grid was so far handling the extra demand, which came just a week after a major outage, blamed on mechanical problems, left tens of thousands of Manhattan residents in the dark.
In Washington, the morning low of 81 degrees was just one degree below the record set in 2015, with “a good chance to hit 100 today for the first time since 2016,” The Washington Post reported.
Triple-digit temperatures in the US Northeast are unusual.
The Philadelphia Inquirer suggested, tongue in cheek, that locals might want to seek relief in normally sweltering Miami or Phoenix, which would be up to 25 degrees cooler.
Philadelphia looked likely to set a new record for the hottest July 20 since 1930.
In Boston, where the weather service said that Saturday and Sunday would be “major scorchers,” city officials scrapped entry fees at public pools.
In the far northwest, temperatures soared earlier this month in the state of Alaska, which straddles the Arctic Circle, with largest city Anchorage hitting an all-time high of 90 degrees.
Earlier in the week, the National Weather Service office in the Midwestern city of Omaha baked a tray of biscuits — savory breakfast bread similar to scones — on the dashboard of a parked car. After nearly eight hours and with temperatures on the pan reaching 185 degrees, the pastries were almost fully cooked.
Climate data showed June was the hottest month on record worldwide, with a heat wave across Europe smashing national records.


How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

Updated 43 min 28 sec ago

How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

  • SciencesPo teacher David Djaiz wants France to promote civic friendship and reaffirm French values to combat terrorism
  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey found young people are more distrusting of French institutions than their older counterparts

PARIS: Violence inspired by radical Islam has created a growing sense of insecurity, fear and Islamophobia in France, which has only fueled the conflation of Islam and Islamism in the public’s consciousness, an Arab News/YouGov poll of French people of Arab origin has found.

On Oct. 29, three people were killed in a stabbing attack near the Notre-Dame basilica in the southern French city of Nice. It followed the beheading of a French school teacher near Paris on Oct. 16, who had used caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson about freedom of expression.

The attacks have led to a sharpening of rhetoric, both domestically and on the world stage, which has brought France’s core value of secularism under the spotlight and raised the spectre of cultural conflict.

“It is clear that terrorism is also an act of communication. Added to the barbarity of the modus operandi is a desire to accelerate the break up the society in order to start a war of religion by accrediting the thesis that the Republic persecutes its Muslim citizens,” David Djaiz, an essayist and professor at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), told Arab News.

Djaiz believes this is due in part to a mistranslation of French society’s values of secularism. But he is also aware of some deliberate distortions used to serve political ends.

“President Emmanuel Macron spoke of ‘Islamism’ but his words were translated into Arabic using the word ‘Islam,’” Djaiz said, referring to the French president’s remarks in response to the beaheading of teacher Samuel Paty.

As a result, some foreign politicians used these distorted words to sow confusion and to trigger protests and boycotts of French goods, he said.

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has used this discourse in a very cynical way to satisfy his own political agenda,” Djaiz said.

The climate this has created in the wake of the Paris and Nice attacks has only served the interests of jihadist terrorism, which seeks to alienate French Muslims from the rest of the society, he added.

The solution may be multi-pronged. Beyond police and judicial operations to break up Islamist networks, Djaiz wants to see France adopt policies to promote civic friendship and the recognition of French values.

“Every child in this country, regardless of his denominational affiliation, must receive a positive education in the values of the republic and the principles that structure it, and first and foremost the principle of secularism,” he said.

This principle of secularism was conceived by the great figures of the Third Republic, among whom were Protestants, Freemasons and non-believers, to allow the peaceful coexistence of all denominational components of French society.

For a long time, this society was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, whose dogma influenced the state. But in a society that was becoming more pluralized and complex, republicans sought to separate church and state and allow a diversity of opinions and beliefs to express themselves peacefully.

“From this point of view, secularism is therefore a principle that must be particularly welcoming to Muslims, because it allows everyone to freely exercise their worship by being protected from the pressures of the group,” said Djaiz. This allows the individual to freely worship or to abandon their faith without consequence.  

“Secularism is not at all a revolver pointed at Islam as the Anglo-Saxon media alleges. On the contrary, secularism helps to protect all religious convictions,” said Djaiz.   

But is secularism actually working in reality? Djaiz believes the problem is a widespread misunderstanding of what it means. “This principle must be explained to young children and this task must be entrusted essentially to teachers and all front-line officials in this country,” he said.

“This pedagogy and explanation work has not been sufficiently done, allowing secularism to be considered as an aggressiveness towards Islam whereas this is totally false,” he said.

“But if we are still debating secularism today, a principle that should have been validated for several decades, it is because the republic indulged itself in laxity and laissez-faire and that the Muslims did not grasp this fight.”

Reaffirming the value of secularism must be made a priority, says Djaiz. To do this, a positive political project promoting the concept of civic friendship is essential.

“This political project must go beyond our particularisms and cannot be limited to the values of the republic,” he said. “We need a project that propels us and tells a new French story that remains largely to be invented.”

The importance of this “new narrative” is clearly spelled out in the findings of the Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey, which has uncovered a generational gap. A majority of young French people of Arab origin are much less enthusiastic about French institutions than their older counterparts.

According to the poll, younger people appear more keen on returning to the roots and origins of their parents and are less inclined to comply with French regulations.

Djaiz believes Muslim scholars and cultural leaders must play their part in undermining the more extreme interpretations of Islam and promoting openness. The views of French Muslims who condemn the protests and boycotts of French goods must also be promoted.

He is optimistic a new social contract can be established that will mend the worrisome rifts opening up in French society.

“We are now on the cusp of very great changes,” he said. “The challenge we are facing today is to establish a kind of new social contract in which every child of the republic will have a place so that no one is tempted by extremist and murderous ideologies.”